We review this week’s new cinema releases, including A THOUSAND TIMES GOODNIGHT and GODZILLA…
A THOUSAND TIMES GOOD NIGHT (Norway/Ireland/Sweden/12A/117mins)
Directed by Erik Poppe. Starring Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Chloe Annett, Lauryn Canny, Larry Mullen Jr., Eve Macklin, Mads Ousdal, Denise McCormack.
THE PLOT: She’s “one of the top five photographers out there,” quips one admirer of photojournalist Rebecca (Binoche), just in case we didn’t get the picture. In war-torn Afghanistan, we first meet our intrepid heroine after she has embedded herself with a militant group, about to send one of their female members out on a suicide mission. Caught in the crossfire, Rebecca is wounded, and soon winging her way back to her Dublin home, where waits her hubby, Marcus (Coster-Waldau) and their two daughters. Marcus wants a promise that Rebecca will stop putting her life at risk, and for a while, she tries her hand at a normal life. But when daughter Steph (Canny) asks her to join her on a school project to Africa, where there’s also an offer to photograph a refugee camp in Kenya, well, what’s the harm…?
THE VERDICT: Whenever there’s a movie about movies, they always like to throw some tongue-in-cheek generic movie posters up on the walls, just to show us how jaded and predictable movies can be. And we’re not talking about just the up-to-11 B-movie blockbusters here; it’s the smaller, supposedly smartest and oh-so-earnest posters that tend to raise the biggest chuckle.
Well, the poster forA THOUSAND TIMES GOOD NIGHT does that for me. It might as well be up in Griffin Mill’s bathroom, in a thick black frame, with its own little spotlight. It just looks so damn earnest. And predictable. Thankfully, the movie itself is far from a parody. Then again, when you’ve got a director who’s been there, shot that, the great Juliette Binoche (going full Jolie), that fine Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Headhunters, Nightwatch, the only likeable Lannister) and even a few well-placed Paddies (including U2’s stickman, proving once again that he’s not just a permanently-displeased face), well, there’s much to recommend here. Not least the underlining battle here between real news and infotainment. What got more hits online over the last week – Beyonce’s sister slapping Jay-Z around in an elevator or the plight of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls being held by Islamist militants?
Winner of the jury’s Special Grand Prix at Montreal last September, A THOUSAND TIMES GOOD NIGHT may look like homework, but it’s a sweet lesson on offer here.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Gareth Edwards. Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche.
THE PLOT: It’s 1999, and Japanese scientist Serizawa (Wantanabe) and his colleague Dr. Graham (Hawkins) are called in to investigate a Philippines mining disaster, a collapse revealing a skeleton you could swing a King Kong in. Something has been disturbed. And it’s on the move. To Janjira, Japan, where scientist co-workers Joe (Cranston) and Sandra (Binoche) are so happy with their work, little Ford (Carson Bolde) hardly gets noticed. When tremors collapse the nuclear power plant where the couple work, Ford is left without a mother. And Joe is left convinced that the collapse was far from natural. Cut to 2014, and good soldier Ford (Taylor-Johnson) doesn’t talk to his conspiracy-theorist pop anymore, but, forced to bail him out of prison, all the signs point to the distinct possibility that the old man might be onto something. Especially given that the tremors are happening all over again…
THE VERDICT: A film of two very distinct halves, for the first hour of Hollywood’s latest attempt to reanimate the Godzilla franchise into a worldwide phenomenon (after 1998’s mediocre if profitable Emmerich & Devlin outing) is the usual globe-trotting, time-hopping exposition crock, all sub-standard Spielberg alien-threat-meets/represents-fractured-family (aka The Entire Works of J.J. Abrams) and big actors hamming it up (Watanabe coming out worst, thanks to his broken English and staring-into-the-middle-distance panic punchlines), but then, just as you think you’re stuck in the middle of Michael Bay’s Cloverfield, this Godzilla starts to kick ass. Two asses, as it turns out, but, sweet Jesus, once it gets going, the monster mash here is smash.
Suddenly, all the Kodak moments start to work. The nuclear-level-cute family reunion actually sparks a lump in the throat. Most importantly, the great big cuddly killing machine saviour at the centre of it all (think Iron Giant with really bad acne) going on his roaring rampage of avenge kicks like Bruce Lee on steroids. So, this is one party you really should try and arrive late to. About an hour late.
Review by Paul Byrne
IN SECRET (USA/15A/107mins)
Directed by Charlie Stratton. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Shirley Henderson, Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook, John Kavanagh.
THE PLOT: Sent to live with her aunt, Madame Raquin (Lange), by her sailor father, Therese (Olsen) has a far from idyllic upbringing. With no one to play with other than her sickly cousin Camille (Felton), Therese’s future is looking grim. And indeed it proves so, as she is married off to Camille, moving with her new family to Paris, where there is again is no fun, not even when the family are having friends over for games of dominoes. Even Camille’s handsome co-worker, Laurent (Isaac), disgusts Therese. At first…
THE VERDICT: Originally called Therese when it first hit the festival circuit last year (being based on Emile Zola’s 1867 novel Therese Raquin), IN SECRET has taken its time making it to our screens. Mainly because of all the lukewarm reviews, of course, and the complete lack of a star, or a hook, but, with leading lady Elizabeth Olsen waiting patiently for her hunky husband to save the day in this week’s GODZILLA, hey, now’s a good a time as any for some hopeful counter-programming. If you’re not into iconic monsters smashing up big cities, you could always try a period romp. Or period rumpy-pumpy, to be more precise.
Yep, there’s plenty of lustful moans and groans here, but not all of them will be sexual for the audience.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (UK | USA | France/12a/96mins)
Directed by Hossein Amini. Starring Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen.
THE PLOT: Rydel (Oscar Isaac) is an American working as a tour guide in Greece in 1962. Rydel has carved out a life for himself running tours and running cons on tourists, but all of this changes when he becomes fascinated with Colette (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband Chester (Viggo Mortensen). After the three share a drink, it is not long before Rydel is drafted in to help Chester move to body of a PI, and the relationship between the three becomes stronger, and utterly complicated.
THE VERDICT: It is easy to say that THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY feels ‘Highsmithian’, given the tonal, story and character similarities to THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY. As well as this, given that Chester has recently run off with cash earned through fraud, the story feels particularly apt and ready for adaptation.
Director Hossein Amini is a name known to many as a screenwriter – having films such as DRIVE and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN to his name – but this is his first turn as director, and he does admirably. The chemistry between the three leads – Dunst, Mortensen and Isaac – is strong, and is allowed to ebb and flow, based on Dunst’s performance and her character’s feelings. Mortensen does a great job of playing a charming man whose past catches up to him and causes him to unravel, Isaac plays the charismatic con man with flair and Dunst seems to have outgrown her whingy characters of the past, making Colette a warm and engaging character, whose fears and rationalisations feel completely justified.
The story is a fairly standard love triangle thriller, and while it is dialogue heavy, it is never dense or inaccessible. The trouble arises, however, through a sense that the story is dragging its heels for the sake of building tension, and several twists and turns leave the film meandering at times. Amini makes the film atmospheric and beautiful, but it does feel, from time to time, that we are treading ground that is all too familiar, even though there is plenty to enjoy here. That said however, Marcel Zyskind’s cinematography makes great use of the beauty of Greece, and adds to the atmosphere of oppression and tension built up through the film.
THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY is a perfectly enjoyable thriller but, with so many other writers inspired by Highsmith and a familiarity with THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, there are times when it feels as though we have been here many times before. Mortensen, Isaac and Dunst shine, and this is a strong debut from Amini as a director, but does demonstrate that the director still has some learning to do.
Review by Brogen Hayes